Can journalists converse online too?

Continuous rail delays and a fire on the underground, followed by a snail’s pace taxi crawl in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, meant that I arrived breathless and late and missed half the seminar on the politics of online journalism yesterday.

The debate that I heard centered around whether quality mainstream journalists can write successfully online and attract quality debate and comments.

The answer in my opinion is that it can, but that it involves a totally different approach. When information is given online, it is not just a story, it is a conversation, and one which the writer must join in.

There are many journalists who write excellent blogs. I rave about Bryan Appleyard, who gives insights into his personal life too, which most online journalists don’t. He has lots of great conversations.

I believe the challenge for journalists is that they have to work harder to establish their credibility online because they are inviting a discussion on their story and it may be get a mauling. A mauling can be savage and unjustified, but readers will be able to judge for themselves whether the criticism is fair. They will probably write about it on their own blog too.

It is the unpleasant and ranting tone of some of the comments that seemed to be of great concern, and whether these should be regulated, only allowing the “quality” comments to be published.

Writers could have their own “house rules” which stipulate commenting “on topic”, not swearing and respecting the fact that others are entitled to a different view to get round this. Writers need to know how to respond to derisory comments too, tireless as it may seem. Don’t let them get the better of you.

At the end of the day, quality writers can attract quality readers, but they have to work at it. Readers are very loyal and will return daily if they enjoy the articles, as well as liking and respecting the writer. The writer needs to build a relationship, just like any blogger. How many quality journalists visit other sites and post comments ? Do they always expect the traffic to come to them and give nothing back?

I was struck by the serious tone of the evening and could no longer hold back from blurting out that blogging had to be fun too, how it has given me so much pleasure and brought me into contact with some great like-minded people.

Here is a list of the guests I believe attended, I’m afraid I didn’t get the chance to talk to many of them.  Rachel looked stunning, suntanned from her recent honeymoon:

Emma Maier

Tony Curzon Price (

Nico Macdonald

Ruth Hogarth (BBC World Service New media)

John Owen (Newsxchange)

Rick Waghorn (

Ellee Seymour (

Ros Taylor (Guardian Unlimited)

Richard Ayers (Magic Lantern)

Martin Stabe (Press Gazette)

Richard Addis (Shakeup media)

Ryan Bowman (Shakeup media)

Becky Hogge (Open Rights Group)

Rachel North (

Roberto Ravello (BBC World New Media)

Sara Sreberny-Mohammadi (BBC News Online)

Kate Goldberg (World Service Future Media)

Clive Davis (Spectator blogs)

Astrid Zweynert (Reuters Online)

Stella Creasey (Involve)

P.S. The  journey home was just as horrendous. My husband had to drive to Cambridge rail station and collect me. I had to make a frantic dash from King’s Cross to Liverpool Street station to find a train travelling to Ely  where I set off from and left my car. The train did not run to Ely, only Cambridge, and a coach provided for the remaining leg of the journey would not have arrived in Ely until 1am. To top it all, there was lots of yummy food at the seminar, but no plate!  


  1. It could be the links Ellee – one is usually allowed but two or more can flag up a mod? on some systems.

    I chose PH’s blog because I don’t think he is lying (and neither am I), but that it is a known example of author and moderator being seperate. With large organisations the moderation of your blog may not be in your control.

  2. Philipa, People will get caught out if they lie about comment moderation and write about it elsewhere. At the end of the day, they lose out, they lose a reader and will be accused of censorship.

    I will say though that although I don’t have comment moderation set here, the comment you just posted above went through to moderation for me to approve. I don’t know why, it didn’t happen with your other comments. Perhaps there is a genuine explanation.

  3. Ellee – so sorry you had an awful journey, unfortunately I can sympathise from experience. You say “some of the comments that seemed to be of great concern, and whether these should be regulated, only allowing the “quality? comments to be published.” – the problem with this is what are “quality? comments and that moderation really does affect the author of the blog. I’ve made this point elsewhere so please allow me to explain.

    Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday has got into his stride on his blog. It is not a showcase for his column, which is published and allows comments elsewhere, it publishes work written for the blog, I understand and Peter interacts. Whilst rules for the blog have been declared, they have not been adhered to and publication of comments has been very hit and miss. I have heard this from many people who have submitted comments that did not contain profanity etc. but whose comments have not been published. Peter assures me that he has asked for all comments to be published, unless breaking rules. I have found that this practice is not the case and have had my comments moderated or barred for no good reason. I even wrote to the editor who contacted the moderation team who had no record or memory of comments of mine that mysteriously disappeared. I’m not the only one who has experienced this. This does not engender trust in the reader/blogger.

    There are three possibilities as I see it:

    1. Peter is lying, does the moderation himself at whim and quite possibly hates my point of view so does not publish comments with my name on it, depending on his mood.

    2. The moderation team is crap and I would do a better job.

    3. The Mail on Sunday publishes comments from the blogging public selectively to give a carefully managed view of public opinion, about it’s journalist and the approved content of that journalists work.

    I know that Boris Johnson’s blog really does adhere to set rules and publishes all comments unless containing profanity or offensive material such as links to video nasties. But does this give a false public impression when comparing the two men? Because Boris Johnson’s blog is more honest, does he appear in a less flattering light than Peter Hitchens? And if Peter is not moderating his own blog (I believe the MoS would have a rather large IT dept for all the blogs/website) then does he feel uncomfortable by the presentation of an utterly false reaction to his work?

    Personally I rate the work of these two men. I also think that massaging the reaction to Peter’s work does him a disservice as the reader cannot know that it is not Peter who does this, and this cannot reflect well on him. When Peter’s opinion is reacted to in an unmoderated forum, such as the discussion pages of Wiki, Peter can defend it perfectly well and a lively and interesting debate ensues. IMHO Peter does not need to be protected and in ‘managing’ the public reaction to the paper’s staff, the MoS does not do itself any favours. It simply gives an impression of a completely untrustworthy organisation that publishes what is convenient or not too damaging to it’s own agenda. Is this good journalism?

    I am of the opinion that a blog can start out with good journalism, from the author of that work, but that the moderator is important after the fact. Moderation of blog comments reflects on the author and may give a wholly biased and unfair reaction in the mind of the reader, for if a readers comment is disallowed, you wonder why? A fair and honest moderation facility is essential.

  4. I was surprised not to be invited but despite this I will ensure I am available for the next one – I do not take offence easily as anyone who knows me will testify..

  5. No late trains to Ely
    I was travelling to St Albans by rail weekend before last are there were no trains beyond Stevenage (working on the line) – fortunately I got a lift to Stevenage on the way back – lol!

  6. Talking about journalists online,
    Just had someone from Bourn Fertility Clinic on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire – warning men who are hoping to have children to beware of hot summers and hot saunas.

    Two degree change in temperature round your balls can dramatically affect your sperm count.
    Seems a hot bath or sauna can be a ‘natural’ contraceptive – ooops!
    ooops he says, As he leaps out of the hot sauna

  7. This is an extremely interesting question to me, particularly as a wee little journalism student myself.

    Does blogging constitute “journalism?”

    There’s another one to ponder.

  8. Very interesting, Ellee. I agree with what you say about online journalism. Its very immediacy makes it different and a story can take a dramatic turn as the journalist is writing it. You, of course, do very well at conversing with your readers – that’s why we keep coming back! We feel as if we know you. Glad you still enjoy it all!

  9. Rachel, thank you, I would loved to have talked longer with you.

    Sheila, I have had a couple of unpleasant experiences, but you have to deal with it and move on. Kathy’s case was particularly awful. It’s a form of bullying and just like in school where only some children are bullied, it’s the same in cyberspace, I don’t know why some people are targeted and not others.

    Martin, I was told that the person from Hansard was the only expected participant who did not arrive. Pity you missed it.

  10. I wasn’t actually there, enven though I was supposed to be.

  11. Sheila Rainger

    Hi Ellee,

    Your comments about comments are interesting, epecially in the light of O’Reilly’s call for a bloggers code of conduct, and Kathy Sierra’s experience with personally abusive comments and death threats. I wondered whether in your experience, women attract more ranters than men, or whether you felt the blogosphere was impartial in this respect.


  12. Dear Ellee, it was lovely to see you last night – looking lovely in leopard spots and linen. I am so sorry that you had such a grim journey. I thought everyone was very impressed by you, and your inspiring tales your excellent relationships with your impressively thoughtful and well behaved readers!

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